My Flexitarian Ways
I didn’t eat meat for over thirty years.
My parents both became “vegetarians” back in the seventies. They weren’t together yet so it wasn’t something they came to as a couple.
Mom’s story involves something about a drug-induced state (t’was the 70’s…and my name is Faith) where she looked in the refrigerator only to find several different types of lunch meat and little else. In short her, ahem, heightened awareness we’ll call it, brought her to the conclusion that meat was gross and not fit for human consumption.
I haven’t heard if my papa had an exact moment in this way but he did work on a dairy farm in North Carolina while living on a commune as a young, twenty-something so it’s possible.
I put vegetarian in quotation because neither of my parents stopped eating fish or seafood and so it came to be that my sisters, brother, and I were raised “pescatarians”.
But for real, who uses “pescatarian” and besides, growing up without consuming hot dogs and pepperoni in rural West Virginia received a response not that different to had I been a gluten free-paleo-vegan-tree nut free-airatarian. Basically, “huh?” followed by “it’s not meat, it’s just chicken, eat it”.
And so I remained a, quote-unquote vegetarian for my first three decades.
There were certainly a few exceptions. As a kid I had a matzo ball soup clause, at home we would make these Jewish dumplings vegetarian but when celebrating Passover at the grandparents or friend’s houses I would devour up to three bowls of the chicken broth soaked balls without pause.
As I got older and started traveling to other countries I became less concerned if my dish was truly vegetarian or not. It wasn’t uncommon to find bits of meat parts in my veggie stir-fry while eating beside the locals in Vietnam. I also became more realistic; understanding that unless I was cooking the food from scratch I was no doubt consuming all kinds of meat in various forms unbeknownst to me; especially in the form of fats and broths.
But I held out for a long time on actually taking a real, conscious bite of meat. It didn’t appeal to me. I can be a picky eater (used to be much more so) and the smell, look, and thought simply didn’t appeal to me.
Until it did.
First I got less picky. Ceviche and sushi were my gateway. While living in Peru I was to embarrassed to tell the locals that I was grossed out at the thought of eating essentially raw fish so I just went ahead and had a bite. (ceviche is “cooked” in lime juice which changes the texture to somewhere between raw and cooked but no heat is ever applied). It was amazing. I had many more bites. Next I started ordering more than just the cooked or veggie rolls at the sushi bar.
Then I started cutting way back on soy and processed vegetarian foods, that could be another post but in short they just didn’t feel like a good staple any more for me.
I got bored. And curious. And hungry. For the first time in my life I started to feel like I was missing out by not at least taking a few bites if the situation was right.
Over the last year I’ve started taking nibbles of meat when it looks, smells, and feels appealing to me. First it was sweet potatoes cooked in duck fat on a camp fire, then there were the mussels cooked in a smoked gouda and bacon broth, a bite of local steak cooked by a friend, and some sausage in a lasagna. I still feel picky about texture and cuts and looks and smells but it seems like this is a common sentiment even from regular, life-long carnivores. I also get bored quickly, I have eat more than several bites before I’ve simply had enough.
Vegetarian and pescatarian dishes are still my staples and I don’t plan to go full-bore carnivore any time soon (or ever really) but I am glad that I’ve been able to get over my pickyness about food enough to expand my horizons and have a taste if the mood strikes me.